Construction of Perception

In Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant discusses how people are able to perceive different objects and determine how those objects exist relative to other objects. Kant determines that in order to truly perceive that an object exists, one must synthesize their different presentations to create a more holistic perception. 

Kant indicates that “manifold presentation given in a certain intuition would not one and all be my presentations, if they did not one and all belong to one self-consciousness,” indicating that for these different “presentations” to truly be apart of one’s “self-consciousness” and truly belong to “me,” they must go through a “synthesis of presentations” (B133). It is through the ability to synthesize these different presentations that Kant believes one can create a “synthetic” and “analytic” unity (b133-b134). This unity allows one to fully understand the object in relation to the different ways the object was presented.

Kant furthers this argument of synthesis when he discusses it in context of senses and understanding. He indicates that “senses present objects to us as they appear, but the understanding presents them as they are,” and “understanding and sensibility can determine objects only in combination,” because absent the ability to both understand what an object looks like as well as what an object is, no one can truly understand that object (B314). If “sensibility” and “understanding” are severed, then we either just know what an object looks like without a firm understanding of what the object is composed of, or we just know what the object is, without having any clue what it looks like or having to identify it.

The idea that you need to both know what composes a specific object and what it looks like to actually characterize that specific object is an interesting principle that we never really think about. Without knowing what an iPhone is, when someone saw one they would have no idea what they were looking at, but if someone knew all there is to know about an iPhone but never saw one, they wouldn’t be able to know that that specific object is in fact an iPhone.

Kant also makes an interesting argument that the only way to truly acquire a sense and an understanding of a specific object is to use the “boundary concept,” which indicates that you need to break the boundaries of placing objects in specific categories and try to fully understand them first and learn about those objects relative to other objects (B311). This concept is similar to Socrates indicating that without learning that one is wrong about something, that person will ignorantly go through life thinking that he or she is right. To actually understand an object people need to understand it independent of its defined categories and establish a sensibility and understanding of the object themselves.

2 responses to “Construction of Perception

  1. That example about the iPhone got me thinking. You’re saying that if a person has never seen an iPhone, they will not understand what they’re looking at if they actually see an iPhone. You’re also saying that even if a person is described what an iPhone is and looks like, you wouldn’t know that the specific object is the iPhone either. I think this point only works on some situations. For example, it depends on how general the object you’re talking about is. You can never really explain what the color blue looks like if the person has never seen it, but you can explain what a iPhone is by attributes. Doesn’t the iPhone have specific attributes that make it what it is? Or is it too similar to other iPhones that it is indistinguishable?

  2. I think you make an interesting point. Clearly the color blue requires seeing blue to understand that it is the color blue, but I also believe that this idea still holds true for other objects such as an iPhone. I think you make a valid point that given a clear enough understanding of the characteristics of an iPhone someone could easily recognize and object as an iPhone, but I also don’t think that is truly Kant’s argument. I think Kant’s argument is less about simply being able to recognize an object as an iPhone or not, and more around fully understanding what that object is. For example, in a Jimmy Fallon sketch he showed random people on the street an iPhone 4 and told them it was a 5 and they all believed him and described the differences they had read about between their 4 and what they thought was a 5. This indicates that although they had an understanding of what a 5 is, they didn’t fully comprehend an iPhone 5 because they had never seen one before. So although they may be able to recognize the fact that that object was an iPhone, they didn’t fully understand the object having never seen it before.

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